Self-evaluation is an essential factor in beginning and furthering a career in comedy writing or performing. However, that appraisal must be honest and realistic. Anything less than total honesty is useless because it gives you a false estimate of your readiness to participate. A professional musician once pointed this out to me by saying that music was one area where it was almost impossible to fake it. He said, “If someone hands you a sheet of music, you can either play it or you can’t.” There’s no way that you can pretend you’re reading the score and playing the notes. You either can or you can’t.
Comedy performing has that built in safeguard, too. When you step on stage with your prepared set, you either get laughs or you don’t. If you get laughs, you’re funny. If you don’t get laughs, either you or your script needs work.
With comedy writing, it’s easier to “talk a good game.” You might be able to cover your tail with chatter about motivation and story arc and character development and such. Bottom line, though, is that the script or the jokes either deliver or they don’t.
Granted, there are often circumstances that can affect the effectiveness of comedy. As a performer, you might not be on your game on a particular night. Or you might catch a “bad” audience on a given night. There are many reasons why this particular set may not be stellar. Nevertheless, it’s still up to you to evaluate the performance. Was it sub-par? If it was, why was it lacking? What was it lacking? What were you, the performer, missing that night?
As a comedy writer, too, there are circumstances that can affect your script. The performers or the comedian may not be delivering the lines properly. They might be adding variations that affect the credibility of the characters. How can you, as the writer, revise this script to make it more effective?
Once again, though, you’re not searching for excuses; you’re searching for valid answers. To simply explain the problems away does nothing to further your career. You want to make your performance or your script workable. You need honest, real solutions to do that.
Why is self-evaluation so important?
First, it lets you know how your talents compare with the pros. Are you realistically approaching the skill level that you’ll need? Telling yourself that you have those talents when you don’t can be more destructive than constructive. Often, making your move before you’re prepared can sometimes destroy a promising career. I’ve noticed that the profession can be cruel to newcomers. If you enter the profession and “flunk out,” you may not be able to break into it again.
Second, it lets you know what areas you must work on to improve to the point where you are comparable to the professionals. I often tell the story about my tennis playing days. Before a match, the opponents would hit back and forth to warm up. One day I launched a few lobs to my rival so he could loosen up with a few overhead smashes. Instead, he said to me, “Don’t hit me lobs. I’m no good at hitting overhead smashes, so I never practice them.” It seemed to me that if you’re not very accomplished with a certain stoke, isn’t that one you should be practicing?
Third, by noting your strengths and weaknesses, you can improve your skills logically. If you have weaknesses, as we discussed above, you can practice them until you’re reasonably certain you’ve eliminated them, or at least more comfortable in using them. If you discover strengths, you can develop them even more until they become formidable.
Fourth, it gives you information that can be useful in your own writing and performing. You learn what you can do effectively and what you probably should avoid. I once worked with a national performer who was noted for his versatility. People would say of him, “He can do anything.” Without disrespecting him, he could not do anything. He simply avoided doing those things that he knew he couldn’t do well and concentrated on those things that he did magnificently. That gave the appearance that he could do anything. That’s not a bad misperception for people to have of your talents.
I should note, also, that this doesn’t mean that you should be overly critical of your talents. Berating your performance unnecessarily can be just as harmful as overpraising your skills. Be honest with yourself. It’s the most effective way to know where you stand and how you can best further your development.